Opinion

OPINION

Creating a State of Diversity in Massachusetts

‘Inclusion Incorporated’ is an excellent phrase for the new world of hiring and workforce development being faced by corporations and other organizations throughout New England every day.

The cover story with that title in the July 21 edition of BusinessWest focuses tellingly on the many factors that make diversity an economic imperative — a subject that is now urgently discussed in business schools and boardrooms, and would be even if it weren’t so prominent on the political pages.

As Lorie Valle-Yanez of MassMutual pointed out in that story, with Baby Boomers beginning to retire, organizations will need to find large numbers of new employees in the next few years, and they will be recruiting from a pool that is much more diverse than the group checking out. Workplaces that give a cold shoulder to employees of color will soon find themselves short of talent.

One big problem for Massachusetts is its reputation as a place that doesn’t welcome diversity. College recruiters, corporate human-resources directors, and others repeatedly find that talented people of color from other parts of the country are reluctant to locate here. The problem reached its peak during the bitter court-ordered busing conflicts in Boston in the 1970s, but it was simmering for decades before that. And it persists.

Commonwealth Compact, a statewide program, was launched earlier this year to face the problem squarely and turn it around. The stated goal is to make Massachusetts a location of choice for people of color. This is no small ambition, we know. But the response has been so positive, so broad, and so fast that we are encouraged to hope real progress can be made.

Driving our project is the belief that diversity is more than a moral or social issue. Real inclusion of all kinds of people, at all levels of organizations, is absolutely crucial if they hope to thrive in our shrinking world.

Together with a group of more than 50 advisors from all segments of the community, and with the support of Gov. Patrick, the group’s creators agreed to confront honestly the question of how much of the state’s poor reputation is a leftover from busing and how much is still deserved; build on the work of other groups in the field, collaborating to expand their efforts and not competing; and rally a statewide community response.

One first step was a survey by the McCormack School last year of more than 300 boards of directors. It found that 95% of members were white and 87 male in corporations, with numbers only slightly better for non-profit organizations. Other indicators were also discouraging: for instance, in paired tests of couples seeking housing, nearly half of those of color received fewer options or inferior financing.

Commonwealth Compact’s Bench-marks Initiative seeks to encourage organizations of all kinds to respond with individual actions that could be very powerful collectively.

Specifically, organizations are asked to measure annually their own diversity on a detailed list of 25 benchmarks, ranging from board membership through the workforce — including retention and promotion rates vs. white males — to policies relating to customers and suppliers. Individual information is confidential, but the data will be aggregated and reports issued. The object is improvement over time. To date, 125 organizations have signed on, including Staples, Raytheon, John Hancock, Harvard, MIT, UMass, Partners Health, Blue Cross Blue Shield and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

This strong response shows an enormous and heartening appetite to make real progress. To build further, Commonwealth Compact is preparing an online talent database of people of color, and a clearinghouse to connect people with ongoing agencies, programs, and events.

We encourage organizations from all over the state to join the effort, so that inclusion really can be incorporated.-

Robert Turner is the director of the Commonwealth Compact; (617) 287-5579.

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